“Be nice or be gone”
Dating back for as long as anyone can remember, Kasey’s has been the mainstay neighborhood tavern of Printers Row, through good times and bad. With the most recent transition of ownership to Tom Bystol from Bill White, Kasey’s has never been better: an impressive selection of beer on tap and in bottles, food served by nearby Hackney’s and more flatpanels than you can shake a stick at.
Kasey’s is located on Dearborn Parkway in Printers Row, just a few blocks south of the Congress Parkway. The bar’s old wooden sign with gold lettering is its lone subtle promotion other than its name stenciled in gold on tall windows.
Kasey’s has been around since 1974 but has reputedly been a pub since 1914, and the building itself dates back to 1889. Kasey’s has outlasted other pubs in the area like Moonraker, which used to be located a few doors down and is now the most recent installment of the suburban burger bar Hackney’s.
Step inside Kasey’s and you’ll find a large room with very high ceilings and a long wooden bar on your left. Numerous flatpanel TVs now hang above the bar, replacing a picture of the original Kasey. Opposite the bar stand a series of battle-worn cocktail tables. A recent renovation has cleaned up the place, replacing a an unframed mural of a nude and a pool table that had seen better days. Additionally, Kasey’s has a sidewalk café in the summertime, which is also highly sought after during the Printers Row Lit Fest, held in early June.
Photo courtesy of Kasey DoshierKasey’s does not have a kitchen, but the full menu from Hackney’s on the corner is available—the burger is recommended, and the onion loaf is not. While it seems to have been discarded with other changes, the staff at Kasey’s once wore t-shirts with the bar’s slogan, “Positively No Dancing” written on them. Rather than a rip-off of the Twin Anchors motto, the slogan originated from a city ordinance, perhaps intended to keep Kasey’s from becoming a nightclub. Given the laid-back neighborhood crowd of all ages, it makes one wonder if the ordinance is really necessary. Kasey’s claims to be an Irish pub, but is about as authentic in that as Irish Eyes or Harrigan’s. Instead, head to Kasey’s when you’re looking for a pint after work or softball games in nearby Grant Park.
“In back, the world’s most-crowded pool table seemingly bumps up against the bathroom doors, making for some amusingly awkward conversations.”– excerpt from James Janega’s Chicago Tribune Article, “Life in the South Loop” (October 5, 2006)
Photo courtesy of Olivia Cobiskey
My first visit to Kasey’s coincided with the annual Printers Row Lit Fest (formerly called the “Printers Row Book Fair”). The fest is one of the best times to find whatever used book you may be looking for, no matter how rare or obscure. In walking down Dearborn, Kasey’s was impossible to resist. While half of the dozen taps were out, I still was able to enjoy a Guinness along with a pulled pork sandwich obtained from one of the many street vendors amidst the book sellers. It was then that I observed an older couple unashamedly making out in the corner of the banquette as the Stray Cats played, “Sexy and Seventeen.” Book fairs sure do make folks feel frisky: “Ooh, look honey, a copy of A Tale of Two Cities … Let’s head behind the Lake Claremont booth – quick!”
“If everywhere else is crowded you can pass some time amiably in here.”– The Official Chicago Bar Guide (1994)
Because of its location, Kasey’s draws an interesting crowd. An old-school Bohemian set that moved in during the urban blight of the 70s, students from nearby Roosevelt University, Columbia College and DePaul’s South Loop campus, and both Cubs and Sox fans. All are indeed welcome. Back when the original Kasey owned the place and Printers Row was still full of publishers and print houses, Kasey’s Tavern actually ran from dawn until dusk to accommodate the typesetters that worked the night shift. The place today operates during more regular hours now. Kasey’s Tavern is a great place for a pint, to mingle with regulars, and for a break from the Printers Row Lit Fest. If you like the neighborhood vibe of Kasey’s, you may also want to stop by Blackie’s for a burger just around the corner at Polk & Clark. For more information, you can try visiting Kasey’s website, which may or may not be working. Here’s to Kasey (and Tom).